Of all the soundtracks to John Carpenter’s movies, the ones for “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” are the hardest to find. “Dark Star’s” soundtrack has been out of print for years and is basically comprised of dialogue and music from the movie. As for “Assault on Precinct 13,” its soundtrack was available only as a bootleg until 2003 when a French record company gave it its first commercial release. But now BSX Records has released a soundtrack which contains the music from both movies which has been newly recorded by Alan Howarth, and the results are fantastic.
Both “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” were Carpenter’s first movies which he directed and did film music for, and they were extremely low budget affairs which forced him to make the best use of what he had available. The soundtracks for each ended up inaugurating what is known as “the Carpenter sound” which has been expanded on in later film scores such as “Halloween II” and “Prince of Darkness.” The theme to “Assault on Precinct 13” is one of Carpenter’s most memorable, and it was inspired in part by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” His music for “Dark Star” helped to illustrate the movie’s more thoughtful elements as well as its most comically absurd.
Other artists have re-recorded Carpenter’s music over the years with varying degrees of success, but BSX Records really lucked out here in getting Howarth to recreate these two soundtracks. A highly regarded sound designer and pioneering electronic musician, Howarth worked with Carpenter on the scores to many of his movies all the way up to 1988’s “They Live.” With “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” Howarth doesn’t try to update either soundtrack but instead aims to remain faithful to Carpenter’s original versions and how they sounded back in the 70s. The only real difference is that while both soundtracks were originally recorded in mono, Howarth gets the opportunity to record them in stereo which allows for a more powerful presentation.
“Assault on Precinct 13” ends up sounding better than ever here and the main theme will give your stereo speakers a strong workout. Track 16 is my favorite on the disc as Howarth takes that movie’s theme and adds orchestral elements on top of the electronic ones. It’s the closest he comes to updating any of Carpenter’s soundtracks, but the theme still stays very close to its original sound.
As for “Dark Star,” Howarth sounds like he’s having a blast recreating all those primitive computerized sounds which dominated the score for the 1974 movie. He even recreates “Doolittle’s Solo” which had the character of the same name performing on a makeshift instrument of bottles and tin cans, and he adds in those crazy sounds which emanate from that beach ball of an alien. In addition, composer Dominik Hauser arranges and performs a new version of the song “Benson, Arizona.”
This CD also comes with a highly informative booklet entitled “Assault on a Dark Star: The Musical Pulse of Early John Carpenter” written by Randall D. Larson, a film music columnist and author of the book “Musical Fantastique: 100 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Film Music.” Larson goes into excellent detail over the challenges Carpenter faced in making both “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” and of how he went about created the music for each. Larson also talks in depth with Howarth on how he went about re-recording the scores for this release and the types of equipment he had to work with.
When it comes to re-creating a well-known soundtrack, composers can usually find themselves at a loss. Whether they do a good job or not, they end up giving us something which makes us pine for the original version. The great thing about BSX Records’ “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star” release is that composer Alan Howarth makes both film scores sound as they were always meant to sound. Listening to them is like traveling back in time to the 70s when these two movies came out, and it makes for one of the best soundtrack re-recordings I have heard in a long time.
The “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star” CD is not only a must buy, it is a must buy now. This is a limited edition release and only 1500 units are available to purchase, so get yours soon before these soundtracks go out of print once again.
Other soundtrack reviews by Ben Kenber:
‘Music From The Big House’
‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’